Taking Stock of Your Online Subscriptions

picture of woman entering credit card info into her iPad

With the impending launch of Apple Music this week, it dawned on me that I don’t exactly know just how much I’m spending on digital subscription services. Back in the day I had physical newspapers & magazines show up on my doorstep every month so it was relatively easy to keep track of what I had subscribed to. Those bound, blocks of paper acted as reminders of what I was and wasn’t reading. Subscriptions these days can be tricky things; sign up for a Patreon here, add a new online media service there and pretty soon you’ve lost track of just how much you’re shelling out for the convenience of online content.

The new Apple Music service will cost $9.99 a month / $119.88 yearly but I already subscribe to iTunes Match which costs just $24.99 a year. Do I really need both? There are additional benefits that Apple Music offers that go beyond iTunes Match of course, but is it worth it strictly from a cost basis?

Before I can answer that question I really need to know just how much I’m spending month to month on all these things, so I went through and tried to catalog all of my digital subscriptions. Here’s what I found.

• MLB TV $129.99 yearly
• Netflix $8.53 mo / $102.36 yearly
• America’s Test Kitchen Multi-site Membership / $69.96 yearly
• iTunes Match $24.99 yearly
• Patreon $8.00 mo / $96 yearly
• iCloud 20GB Plan .99¢ mo / $11.88 yearly
• Angie’s List Basic $7.99 yearly

So in total, I’m currently paying $347.17 annually in online subscriptions which breaks down to roughly $29 per month. Overall that’s better than I expected, but then again these are only the subscriptions I could track down or remember I was paying. There are probably a few others I haven’t accounted for yet. I wonder if the amount of content I’ve subscribed to is below or above average for today’s consumer?

Are there subscriptions I could cancel to help get the new Apple Music service into my budget? I’m definitely considering ending my America’s Test Kitchen subscription for instance. The two Patreons I subscribe to (Kurzgesagt & Apple World Today) may not be necessary, but they bring me awesome content every month that I enjoy and wish to support. There’s no way I would ever ditch Netflix, it’s one of the best content providers I’ve ever had.

In the end, switching out my iTunes Match subscription for a year of Apple Music would bring my monthly total up to around $37 or $442.06 annually. That’s an increase of roughly 27% of what I’m currently forking over which seems like a lot at first glance. Will Apple Music be worth it? As I don’t currently subscribe to any streaming music services like Spotify or Beats, it’s pretty much impossible to say, at least for now. The good news is Apple is offering that infamous 3-month free trial when it launches on Tuesday so I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking advantage of that to evaluate the service.

If you’re cost conscious or on a budget and have not taken stock of your online subscriptions recently, now might be a good time to do so. Knowing just how much you’re spending each month can really be an eye-opener that will help you make informed for future subscriptions. At the very least, this exercise has taught me to categorize all of my online subscriptions similarly in Mint so I can easily review what I’ve subscribed to. Lastly, the folks over at iMore have also put together a fantastic guide to Apple Music that answers every question you could possibly have. Hopefully this all helps you as much as it helped me!

Apple, Take Me Away!

LoyaltyTagsRight before the annual developer pilgrimage to Moscone Center, the interwebs become flush with wish lists for Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference and this year is no different. I can’t quibble with my peer’s desires for Apple to focus on fixing bugs and increasing stability rather than adding new and shiny features, but there is one tiny area I’m secretly hoping will play a major role in iOS 9 – Apple Pay Loyalty Programs.

Without a doubt, Apple Pay has been one of the best advancements out of Cupertino in the last 10 years. It makes paying for goods and services generally quicker, far more secure and reduces the amount of “stuff” I need to carry around in my pockets. When it was announced, Apple hinted at upcoming upgrades that would allow retailers to offer loyalty programs and incentives if people used Apple Pay at their retail locations. That was then, and this is now.

Although Tim Cook’s Apple Pay has made impressive in-roads in the space, many retailers have remained skeptical and have refused to join in the secure fun either because they are lazy, cost conscious or can’t get access to the kinds of information that Apple won’t make available via Apple Pay – customer data. Retailers currently have no way to say to Apple Pay customers “If you buy from us, we’ll give you loyalty points you can use for a future discount!” and that’s a problem. As a consumer, I desperately want to reward businesses that make my financial transactions more secure and I want them to recognize my choice by giving me the kinds of incentives I’ve come to enjoy over the years.

Like me, you probably carry around loyalty cards on your keyring or wallet that the cashier swipes when you check out at the grocery store. I hate these things desperately, they need to die a violent death. I absolutely love paying for my lunch via Apple Pay at Panera Bread, but I wince when I have to reach for my wallet to hand the cashier my Panera card just so I can get credit towards next month’s free cookie. It makes no sense.

If there’s any single thing on my wish list for this year’s WWDC, it would be for Apple to give me the ability to never have to carry loyalty/reward cards around ever again. With Apple Pay, Cupertino has made good on its original Passbook promise – A safe, secure and digital wallet without the physical wallet. I’m really hoping that they’ve found a way to integrate loyalty programs into Apple Pay for iOS 9. Doing so is good for the consumer, for businesses and ultimately the economy as paying for stuff electronically gets easier and more secure. Now if I could just get rid of my car’s key fob. Maybe one day.

UPDATE: BINGO! At today’s WWDC keynote address Apple unveiled that they will be adding merchant rewards cards to Apple Pay with iOS 9. Yes Virginia, sometimes dreams do come true!

User Interfaces of the Week

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We’re less than a week away from Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference where Tim Cook and company will unveil the latest and greatest for OS X, Apple Watch and iOS. No doubt we’ll get a preview of iOS 9 and all it has to offer, but before we move forward, sometimes it’s best to reflect on where we’ve come from. I wish I could say the user interfaces featured here were but a distant App Store memory, but alas they all come from currently-shipping apps.

A few weeks ago I went looking for a well designed gas / milage tracking app in the App Store. I’ve been using Gas Cubby for years, but wanted something new to help me keep track of MPG with my new Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid. From my own experience, I knew that doing a general search in the App Store tends to yield less than optimum results. Even so, I just wasn’t prepared for the sloppy approach many of these apps tried to pass off as user interface design.

Being a UI designer myself, I have surrounded myself in my professional and digital life with talented designers and developers who consistently release top-notch apps. The problem with living in a bubble of roses is you sometimes forget what the real world smells like. As I paged through dozens of these milage trackers I was reminded just how many apps on the store are basically junk. Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber has a recurring piece he calls “User interface of the Week” where he highlights some of the worst cases of user interface “design” he’s encountered. I don’t feel right calling these apps out by name, but if any apps deserved John’s moniker, these sure do.

Seeing what often passes for acceptable design in the App Store often reminds me of all the hard work that goes into creating my own well designed and executed apps. So many people think software just grows on trees, but it doesn’t. Designing and building best-in-class software requires a depth of knowledge and experience that a relative few possess.

I can’t wait to see what WWDC has in store for the future of my favorite software platforms. I’m hoping Apple inspires an entire new group of developers to strive for excellence and bring users apps that are truly worthy of these wonderful, futuristic devices. As for my milage tracker quest, I finally settled on Road Trip. It’s a bit more complex than I would like, but so far, so good.

You Will Adapt Your User Interfaces to Service Us!

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Everywhere you look, more and more people feel they are entitled to something they’re not. I and others have written about the obscene level of entitlement some users feel is owed them when they download apps from the App Store, and to be sure this is still a huge problem today. Lately however, I’ve been observing another form of app entitlement and honestly, it has got to stop – iPhone 6 Plus users who think all interfaces should be designed to both fit their jumbo phones AND still allow one-handed use.

When Apple introduced the iPhone 6 Plus and it’s enormous 5.5″ screen, it clearly filled a much-needed gap in the iOS universe. Users had been clamoring for more screen real estate for years and when it finally arrived, they rejoiced. Over time however, these users have developed a sense of entitlement that the apps they run should place all controls at or near the bottom of the screen where they can be reached by the thumb. Sorry, but like Captain Picard in First Contact, I’m drawing a line in the proverbial sand. No, iPhone 6 Plus users don’t get to dictate interface design for the rest of us.

Like it or not, buttons at the top of the screen are not going away any time soon. Developers need every bit of screen real estate to logically lay out controls consistently across a host of device ranges and configurations. From the tiny iPhone 4 to the popular iPhone 6 and the iPad there’s a method to our madness. It might seem like a great idea if every single button, tab, actionable element and control were within thumb’s reach, but that simply isn’t possible, nor is it actually desirable.

When Apple developed iOS, the experts charged with designing its interface laid out regions of the iOS screen for specific interactions. Since the entire navigation stack generally flows from left (where you were) to right (where you are going), the button for closing or going back a level is at the upper left. Creation of new content or taking action on that content, like adding a calendar event or sending an email or a tweet, is usually found at the upper right. Tab controls can be either at the top or the bottom, though generally they are usually found at the bottom. In this way, a user who picks up an iPhone 4 has a reasonable expectation that similar types of controls will appear in similar places when she picks up an iPhone 6 Plus. This helps maintain usability and UI consistency for all apps, not just those that run on jumbo phones.

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There are ways that developers can help facilitate one-handed use when it’s appropriate. The swipe to go back gesture is a great innovation Apple introduced back in iOS 7 and is a thumb-saver on larger phones. Many apps no longer require you to reach up and tap “Back” to go back, you can simply swipe from the left edge of the screen to navigate back one level. Apple also implemented Reachability (double tap the Home button to lower the entire screen temporarily) to help reach interface elements at or near the top of the screen. But for some users, these gestures are simply not enough. The thing they forget is that by opting for a large device they gained a huge, highly readable screen but they also sacrificed some level of UI convenience. iPad users have been dealing with this trade-off for years, that’s the nature of the beast, like it or not.

When I first heard about the rumored existence of the iPhone 6 Plus and its huge screen, I wondered how Apple would reconcile its long-held tenet that one-handed use reigned supreme with that of it’s upcoming larger device. Apple even built an entire marketing campaign around the advantages of smaller iPhones vs their larger Android counterparts. But when the Plus was released, Apple quickly abandoned that philosophy in order to sell millions of 6 and 6 Plus’. Funny how that happened.

The problem with these users is that they often think like the Borg – they want the best of both worlds – larger screens and an interface that lets them use every app one-handed. As someone who designs for the screen, I’m here to tell them that until humans evolve longer thumbs that simply isn’t possible. At some point (iOS 10?) Apple may come up with a completely new interface paradigm for iOS, but in the meantime it’s best if they start dealing with reality. Whether it’s assimilating Starfleet personnel or playing with your apps, sometimes you just need to use two hands.

Star Trek: Next Gen Wallpapers for iPad

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A few months ago I released several iPhone wallpapers that Star Trek fans have really been enjoying. The response to these LCARS-style graphics was tremendous and almost immediately I started receiving requests for iPad versions of them. The problem was there’s no way to design a square LCARS wallpaper that works both in portrait and landscape mode on the iPad. All of the major elements on-screen (the time, date, slide to unlock & camera icon) are positioned differently when you rotate your device.

A big part of the charm of the iPhone LCARS wallpapers is that the iOS elements flow right into the design and become part of it, but this just isn’t possible to do with a single image for iPad. The solution was to not even try and to design separate wallpapers that can be used in either landscape or portrait, not both. The result is the landscape Next Gen iPad versions I’ve created here. I may create portrait versions at some point, but the majority of iPad owners use the device in landscape mode primarily so that’s what I went with.

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek Production Designer, Michael Okuda since day one and like the iPhone versions, this project is my ongoing way of saying “Thank you!” for the wonderful, futuristic operating system that Next Gen fans know and love as LCARS. With these new iPad versions, you can definitely feel like you’re using a real Next Gen PADD when you unlock your tablet, it’s super fun!

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS 8:

1) Click to view the version of the iPad wallpaper you like best:

• iPad landscape – Original / TNG Colors
• iPad landscape (Starship Schematic) – Original / TNG Colors

2) Tap & hold on the image in mobile Safari & save it to your photo library

3) Open Photos, view the image then tap the Share button in the lower left

4) In the Share menu tap Use as Wallpaper

5) Pinch Zoom OUT on the image to size it exactly to the screen

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Position the image so the Lock Screen’s date line is centered inside the thinner, red upper bar

8) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Sleep/lock your iPad and the next time you activate it, you can pretend you’re Captain Picard himself receiving an important message from Starfeet Command. I hope you enjoy this fun treat & help spread the word via Twitter and Facebook.

Be sure to visit my Goodies page to download other fun desktop wallpapers for iPhone, iPad & Mac. Engage and enjoy!

How Broken is Discovery on the App Store? This Broken.

Much has been made over the years about how the App Store could be improved for both developers and customers. Areas like interactive reviews, trial periods, an App Store VP and paid upgrades are all important. One of the key areas many agree is the biggest problem Apple has yet to correctly address is discovery. For small developers like myself, a potential customer’s ability to find your app on the App Store is critical. If customers can’t easily discover and download your software, your app (and indeed your business) has little chance of survival.

The App Store now has over 1.2 million apps available to consumers and with such a wide range of products, it’s more important than ever people are able to quickly find and what they are looking for. Developers have known for years that searching for something in particular doesn’t always yield the results you’d expect, but often it’s downright ridiculous.

Take Twitterrific, the 3rd party Twitter client that my company, The Iconfactory, created back in 2007 and released on the App Store in 2008. Twitterrific was there at the launch of the App Store and the latest iteration, version 5, is available even today, seven years later. Despite many 3rd party Twitter apps going the way of the dodo, Twitterrific, Tweetbot and a few other hearty Twitter clients have survived and sometimes even thrived. This despite Apple’s search results, which bear little resemblance to what a typical user might expect when searching for a simple, straightforward term like “Twitter” on the App Store.

The following list was generated by a manual App Store (iPhone) search on Nov 15th, 2014 for the term “Twitter”. To make the list easier to parse, I’ve called out all apps that allow a user to directly read AND post to Twitter in bold. Everything else is either a game, a utility, or some other social network enhancement. The official app from Twitter is naturally the first result, but the next actual Twitter client (Hootsuite) doesn’t appear on the list until #20 and the next one after that comes in at #62. Even the mega-popular Tweetbot isn’t returned in the results until position #81 and even then, the older v2 of Tweetbot (for iOS 6) comes first. Where’s Twitterrific? Although it contains the word “Twitter” in the app’s name, Twitterrific isn’t seen in the list until you scroll all the way down to #100.

1. Twitter
2. Instagram
3. Framatic
4. Tweegrow
5. Pick Jointer
6. Happy Park
7. Crop Pic
8. Wayze Social GPS
9. Flipboard
10. InstaCollage Pro
11. Symbol Keyboard
12. Find Unfollowers
13. Cool Fonts
14. Symbolizer
15. Big Emoji
16. Get Followers
17. Framatic Mess
18. Alarm Clock HD
19. Textgram
20. Hootsuite
21. Emoticon Art
22. Textizer Fonts
23. 4 For Follow
24. Pixable
25. Just Unfollow
26. Unfollow for Twitter
27. ColorEffects
28. Photobooth
29. G-Whizz
30. New Cool Text
31. Google+
32. Step
33. Tweetcaster for Twitter
34. Vine
35. Camera Awesome
36. InstaEffect Effects
37. Emoticons and Emoji
38. TwitBoost Pro
39. PickGram
40. Insta Scrapbook
41. SpaceEffect
42. Orbs
43. MB2:YouTube
44. Facetouch HD Light
45. Paper Toss Friends
46. Vodio
47. Frame UR Life
48. HayWire Text Free
49. Nimble Quest
50. InstaCollage Pro
51. TweetBoost Pro
52. Right Behind
53. Emoji>
54. Follow Tool for Twitter
55. Color Cap
56. Emoji for iOS 8
57. Camera+
58. Emoji Emoticons
59. Text2Pic
60. Emoji 2 Emoticons
61. Fonts-Cool Font Maker
62. Echofon Pro
63. LiPix Pro
64. Alarm Clock HD
65. Smilebox Moments
66. Everypost for Social Media
67. Google Apps Browser Plus
68. Clipchat
69. VPN Express
70. ÜberSocial for Twitter
71. You Doodle
72. TweetBot 2 (iOS 6)
73. Stocks Live
74. Stocks Live Essentials
75. GameFly
76. Trendyful
77. Oz Quake
78. Buffer for Social Media
79. Yahoo! News Digest
80. Wefollow for Twitter
81. TweetBot 3
82. Photo Notes HD
83. Emoji Art and Text
84. Find Unfollowers Pro
85. Followers for Twitter
86. Follower Boost for Twitter
87. Color Effects FX HD
88. Double Ball
89. TwitGrow for Twitter
90. Twittelator Pro (iOS 6)
91. Emoji Art
92. TwitBoost Pro for Twitter
93. Jedi Lightsaber
94. Get Followers for Instagram
95. Aqua Emoji Keyboard
96. Bloomberg
97. Emoji for Messaging
98. Facely HD for Facebook
99. Timehop
100. Twitterriffic 5
101. IFTTT
102. FollowBoost for Twitter
103. Hyperlapse for Instagram
104. Freebie
105. PhotoFrame
106. Text Pics Free
107. Funimate
108. Followers + for Twitter
109. Emoji Keypad
110. Follower Plus
111. TweetBoost
112. Wow Followers for Twitter
113. Table Top Racing
114. TwitBird Free for Twitter
115. Singing Texts
116. Dice World 6 Free
117. Cool Frames and Picture Effects
118. Bamboo Wallet
119. JustFollow for Instagram
120. Twitter Check
121. TurboBoost for Vine
122. PhillyD Official
123. Hybrid Fonts
124. Mixgram
125. Color Zen
126. Keyboard Pro
127. Symbol Keyboard
128. Tweetlogix for Twitter

148. Echofon for Twitter

167. TweetList (iOS 6)

Every app in bold on this list should precede every other app (save the official client) in the results. This is especially true of apps that are not optimized for iOS 8, yet some apps built for iOS 6 (not iOS 7, 6!) come first. Why? Why games appear on this list at all is a mystery, they are by far the least relevant and don’t even get me started on #18 “Alarm Clock HD” and #93 “Jedi Lightsaber” (really?). Twitter’s own Vine app doesn’t appear here until #34 and some would argue it should be result #2, and rightfully so. It’s obvious that Apple’s search algorithm needs adjusting so it’s weighted not towards downloads or popularity, but relevance.

Finding apps for a small niche category like Twitter clients is relatively easy. Imagine how hard it must be to find a particular game in the vast wilderness that is the App Store if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Until Apple decides to take definitive steps to improve search results, either via human curation, or by lowering dependencies on popularity, easy discovery in the store will continue to be a major problem. Unfortunately for small developers who need paying customers to survive, time is quickly running out.

***

PS – One thing I learned while compiling this post is that there are a lot of apps that purport to help you boost your follower count on Twitter. Like tons. That and emoji apps. Who doesn’t like emoji though? :-)

PPS – One of the ways developers let Apple know that something is broken is by filing Radar reports for a given bug or improvement. Lots of developers have filed radars for the App Store’s irrelevant search results including Radar #18265234 from Simon Booth. In his report, Simon describes just how badly a search related to his music app Smilophone returns results. If you’re an Apple dev, dupe his radar, hopefully it will do some good.

You Just Lost A Customer

News today that some businesses have begun disabling the NFC readers in their retail locations so as block customers from using Apple Pay. When I read this, I have to say it filled me with rage. I don’t yet own an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, but I will soon and one of the reasons why I’ve been looking forward to owning one is the secure, easy transactions that Apple Pay represents. Now we learn that a group of merchants wants to introduce their own payment processing system, one that favors the merchants by eliminating credit card fees, but is most likely far less secure, and most certainly more difficult or confusing to use.

If you’re an iPhone owner who’s as upset as I am, I’ve designed this helpful flyer that you can print a stack of and hand to the clerk at CVS, Rite Aid or anywhere else that refuses to accept Apple Pay. Simply put, you’re telling them that you’re going to take your business elsewhere until they come to their senses and accept your money via Apple Pay. Why any business owner would actually refuse a customer’s money in this economy is bewildering to say the least, but we need to let the corporate owners know we have choices and we chose not to give them our money.

Download the PDF version. If you want, sign your name at the bottom and then see they get into the hands of businesses in your area that insist on doing what’s better for them, instead of what’s best for the consumer.

You can also contact CVS and Rite Aid electronically and tell them that they need to support Apple Pay or risk alienating millions of iPhone users. The more our voices are heard, the harder it will be for them to ignore us.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Ollie!

While preparing for the onslaught of technical support that accompanies new releases of our most popular app – Twitterrific, I was curious about just how many updates we’ve actually released over the years. I looked back through the app’s version history as well as a fun timeline of Iconfactory software releases I created a few years ago to find this week’s 5.8 update is the app’s 50th since its launch in the summer of 2008.

If you had told me back then that we would still be coding and improving the little blue bird that could almost seven years later, I probably would never have believed you. Back then Twitterrific 1.0 was a fun, but unproven app for the then newly released iPhone from Apple. It was released along with the launch of the brand new App Store where users could browse hundreds (yes hundreds) of apps for their shiny new phones. At that time there was no official Twitter mobile client, I’m not even sure there were ANY other Twitter apps in the store at launch*.

Fast forward to 2014 and 50 updates later and we arrive at v5.8 for iOS 8. Given the rocky history 3rd party developers and Twitter have gone through the last few years, I’m honestly surprised we’re still here today. Over the years Twitter has focused more and more on controlling their own user experience and branding. This meant imposing design and interaction guidelines on 3rd party devs like the Iconfactory as well as capping the number of total users who can actually own Twitterrific. Thankfully, since Twitterrific was there at the very beginning, our token pool (at least on iOS) is quite large and we can afford to continue developing the app as long as it makes money. The same can’t be said for so many other smaller 3rd party Twitter developers who have either given up or sold their apps to other larger developers. One of the reasons why the Mac version of Twitterrific still hasn’t been updated is due to the limited number of user tokens available to us on the Mac platform, a policy I sincerely hope Twitter re-examines one day.

When I think of all the hard work, hand-wringing and ultimately, satisfied customers, Twitterrific has gone through over the years it really boggles my mind. Knowing that so many people use and love something you’ve created day after day is a wonderful feeling. You keep downloading and sending us positive feedback, and that motivates us to refine and improve the app. Twitterrific would never have flown as far and wide as it has if it wasn’t for all of our loyal customers, and for that we are truly thankful. If you’ve not tried Twitterrific in a while, I invite you to check it out. Everything old is new once again!

* There was at least one other 3rd party Twitter app in the store at launch – Twinkle.

Troubleshooting Broken App Store Downloads

For the past several weeks I was unable to download any app, paid or free, from the iOS App Store. Every time I tried, once I tapped the button to buy an app and input my iTunes password, the App Store would display the progress indicator as if it was about to download and then return to its default state. The app itself was never downloaded to my device.

At first I thought it was a temporary problem that would resolve itself. I tried restarting my iPhone and iPad (it was happening on both of my iOS devices) several times but that didn’t fix the issue. I tried signing out and back into iTunes via iOS Settings, but that didn’t seem to fix the issue either. I waited several days and tried again and again with no luck. My patience finally ran out and I made an appointment to see an Apple genius at my local Apple Store and thankfully he helped me resolve the issue. I thought I would share the steps he took with me for all those out there that might be having the same problem.

Here’s how he corrected the issue and got me back downloading apps on iOS:

1) Open iOS Settings > iTunes & App Store > tap your Apple ID and sign out

2) iOS Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings

NOTE: This step will clear all of your current network settings including wifi passwords. You’ll have to re-sign back into all of your saved networks, but unless you have a ton of them, it really isn’t a big deal.

3) Restart your iOS device

4) Re-connect to your current network by re-entering your password

5) iOS Settings > iTunes & App Store > log back into your Apple ID account

If all goes as well as it did for me, you should now be able to download any and all apps from the App Store once again. Before you go through the steps of resetting the network connection completely, you might simply want to try logging out and back into your Apple ID first. The genius told me that this sometimes solves the problem, as does logging out and back into your account from another (different) device like a Mac.

Hopefully this process will work as well for you as it did for me and save you a trip to the Genius Bar. Good luck!

Muting Messages in iOS 8

One of the most useful (and hidden) features I’ve come across in iOS 8 is the ability to mute IM threads in Messages. Think of it like Do Not Disturb but on a case by case basis. I first noticed it by accident when a tiny crescent moon icon appeared next to one of my IM threads and so I Googled it to figure out what exactly it was.


When do not disturb is turned on for a particular message thread, you won’t be notified when that person(s) replies via text or iMessage. This can be really great if you want a way to ignore a person or group discussion that’s gotten out of hand. It can also be really frustrating if you happen to activate it by accident as I apparently I did without realizing it (or perhaps a bug in iOS 8?).

To turn Do Not Disturb for individual message threads on or off, tap the Details text at the top right of the Messages window to open that thread’s detail view. Next, scroll down to Do Not Disturb and toggle on or off as desired. When this feature is turned on, you won’t receive notifications when the person sends text messages or IM’s and you can go about your life notification free.

The Details view also gives you quick access to all the images that person has shared with you, as well as the ability to share your location information with the people you’re chatting with which is a nice feature as well.

The more I play with iOS 8, the more little things I find that truly set it apart from iOS 7. It’s wonderful that Apple is giving us more control over our digital world, I can’t wait to see what else is in store.

PS – I love Louie to death and would never mute his IM’s. He was gracious enough to let me use our conversation as an example. Thanks Louie! :-)

iOS 8 Favorite Features

On the surface, users coming from iOS 7 may not notice the myriad of changes and improvements Apple has made in their latest mobile operating system, iOS 8. Visually, iOS 8 is almost identical to its immediate predecessor, but under the hood there’s a great deal to like and even some to really love.

Much has been written about the new OS, but now having used it for a few weeks, I thought I would write about my own personal observations from the user’s perspective. I could write an entire other post about the good and bad parts of iOS 8 as they relate to developers (and perhaps I will), but for now, here are the parts of the new operating system that I’ve been enjoying the most.

3rd Party Extensions

Without a doubt, iOS 8′s single greatest feature is the ability to extend the system via 3rd party extensions. Early iPhone adopters will probably remember what the device was like before the advent of the App Store – it was cool, but killer apps made it a “must have”. I liken extensions in iOS 8 to that early invitation of 3rd party devs to the iPhone party. The most well received extension so far as been Agile Bit’s amazing security utility, 1Password. Thanks to iOS 8′s extensions you now can access your secure passwords directly within apps reducing friction and making your information more secure.

Other notable extensions include PCalc’s Today View which gives you handy computation abilities right from your iPhone’s lock screen and another personal favorite of mine – Add to Wunderlist which lets you add web pages directly to new or existing lists. Perhaps the most exciting part is that we’re just in the early days of iOS 8 extensions so we’re only seeing a fraction of the potential that 3rd party extensions represent. More great stuff is sure to come and I for one am very excited.

Directly Replying to Notifications

Swipe left on a notification on your device’s lock screen or downward from a notification within iOS 8 itself to reveal the ability to reply directly to instant messages. I have to admit that I’ve found myself using this one more and more. It saves so much time being able to reply directly it’s incredible. This is one feature I really wish Apple had implemented earlier, but I’ll surely take it now that it’s here.

Siri’s Visual Feedback

Apple’s digital assistant, Siri, has taken a cue from other popular voice-activated services like Google Voice Search and now displays helpful visual feedback when dictating text or commands in iOS 8. This really comes in handy when you have long blocks of text you want to enter and can see in real time how well (or how badly) you’re doing. It’s still not as fast or precise as Google’s version, and I don’t know how Siri stacks up against Windows Phone’s new assistant, Cortana, but it’s a big improvement none-the-less. Siri’s real-time dictation even works within 3rd party apps like Twitterrific, which was an unexpected and delightful surprise!

Perspective Zoom: OFF

Remember the old “Genie Effect” from Mac OS X where minimizing an app would make it snake down into the magic lamp of the Dock? It was kinda neat the first few times you tried it, but if you were like millions of other OS X users, you probably turned it off pretty quickly. The 3D parallax effect in iOS 7 was the Genie effect reborn for iPhone and was one of the very first things I turned off when I went from iOS 6 to iOS 7.

Now, thankfully in iOS 8 you have even greater control over the parallax effect and can turn it on or off for just the Lock Screen, the Home Screen or both. When you go into Settings > Wallpaper and choose an image to use as your Lock or Home screen, iOS 8 gives you the ability to turn Perspective Zoom on or off when you confirm the choice. Why anyone would choose to leave it turned on is beyond me, but at least now you have granularity when it comes to these cutting-edge, effects that can cause motion sickness in some people. Yay!

Recent Contact List

With fewer and fewer people using the built in Phone app, Apple wisely added a row of recent & favorite contacts to the top of the multi-tasking view. This handy list of people and places you’ve called, IM’d or written is a great way to initiate contact with them quickly and easily.

The only downside is that since I’m seeing their faces a whole lot more, I feel compelled to assign all my contacts decent looking photos for their avatars. Needless to say, not all of my friends have great pictures of themselves and this, as they say, has proven to be “challenging” to say the least. I guess we can’t all look like models from a GAP ad :-/

There are still more than a few rough edges that need sanding in iOS 8. Transition animations can be jerky, apps are prone to crash more often than in iOS 7 and devices can have problems staying connected to local WiFi networks. If history is any indication however, Apple should iron out these wrinkles in pretty short order. In the meantime there’s plenty of cool, useful new features in iOS 8 to keep all of us busy for some time and we haven’t even experienced Apple Pay or Continuity yet. The best, I suspect, is yet to come.

The Only Thing I’ve Ever Wanted

As the days and hours march inexorably towards the launch of Yosemite and iOS 8 this fall, I find my thoughts turning more and more to the fabled and much-rumored iWatch. I’ve been trying to think of what Apple could possibly offer in such a wearable device that might get me to jump in and buy one if it will indeed exist. I don’t need a time piece, I haven’t actually worn a watch in years. I stopped wearing them around the time the iPhone came out, as I’m sure many people did. I’ve read the pitiful reviews of Samsung’s early efforts with smart watches and unsurprisingly was less than impressed. Even if the design of these devices was more elegant and sleek than they currently are, the feature sets just wouldn’t be enough for me to wear both a smart watch and carry around my trusty iPhone.

In order to be desirable, Apple’s iWatch has to fulfill a need that I currently don’t know I have. While this sounds like typical Apple fanboy BS, strangely enough it actually does make sense. Steve Jobs once famously said “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.” and I firmly believe this. One thing that Apple does, perhaps better than any other company on the planet, is to elicit desire in people for their products. They do this by identifying key customer needs, and then meticulously design a simple and elegant solution. One so beautiful and easy to use the public doesn’t understand why it hasn’t been there all along. I really think this will be the case with the iWatch. Some of these feature sets have been speculated since day one. Perhaps some kind of intelligent notification system, health monitor or location aware smart assistant are in the cards but again, I’m not sure any of these would make me crave it.

I am sure the iWatch will not replace a user’s iPhone. The margins on these devices just won’t be high enough for that kind of strategy. Logically, a wearable iDevice would extend the functions of your iPhone (or Mac) to give you more control over your digital life. I just sat down at my Mac, so don’t send that IM to my iPhone, iPad and Mac, just my iPhone. Wouldn’t that be great? Yeah it sure would but it could also be done by simply making your iPhone smarter. My phone goes everywhere I go, I don’t need something like an iRing for that.

Unfortunately that leads us back to square one and perhaps it’s for the best. Trying to outguess Tim Cook’s Apple may be a fun diversion for bloggers and tech mavens but personally I’d rather give the talented folks at Apple the benefit of the doubt. I’m confident that if and when the iWatch does arrive it be simple to use, beautiful to look at and most of all make perfect sense. As Futurama’s Philip J. Fry once said, “Whatever is in there, it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted!” You took the words right out of our mouths, Phillip.

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Go Buy Monument Valley. Now.

Chances are you’ve probably already heard all about the stunning new game from developer ustwo – Monument Valley that was released today. If the game is new to you, then let’s just clear the air right now – go buy it on the app store for your iOS device. Now. This is one of those instances where a piece of software is so stunningly beautiful, and provides such an incredibly rich experience, you’re really missing something if you take a pass. Here are just some of the things you’ll see in this amazing casual puzzler:

There’s a great deal to love in Monument Valley. From it’s rich, varied color palettes that change from level to level, to the extremely clever, M.C. Escher-like design of its levels, to the gorgeous soundtrack and audio effects, Monument Valley delivers at every turn. From the moment you start to play, it’s obvious how much love and attention the folks at ustwo have put into their creation. They’ve managed to design a complete gaming experience and bring it to you via the App Store for a minimal price. Too often games these days are filled with in-app purchases that prey on instant gratification to keep players interested. Monument Valley eschews all that in favor of creating a compelling, finite and beautiful environment for you to get lost in for a few hours of your life. The last few levels in particular are wildly inventive and especially challenging.

If you’ve read the reviews, then you probably know that Monument Valley’s play time is short. It took me a total of about 3 hours (off and on) from start to finish to complete all of the levels, and for some, that length may be a deal breaker. If you feel that way I have news for you – many awesome things in life are short but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of your time or money. You’ll probably spend more on your next meal out than you would on Monument Valley but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy both while they last. The game creators have said they focused on making a concise title that can be completed in a short amount of time on purpose. While this may be true, it doesn’t really matter to me because I know if the game is a success (which I certainly hope it is) then we’ll probably be seeing a great deal more of the mystical world of Monument Valley. Show your support of their efforts to bring you something wonderful and head over to the App Store and buy it, gift it and help spread the word by leaving a review today.

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Ollie Flies Free(mium)

Today marks a new beginning for Twitterrific, the venerable third party Twitter client from the Iconfactory. Today we’re announcing the app is now free to download from it’s normal price of $2.99. We’ve added several in-app purchases to the app to help cover the cost of push notifications and tweet translation, but the bulk of the revenue to continue development will now come from Deck Network ads that will appear above the timeline. Twitterrific has been available in the App Store since day one and we’ve experimented with both paid and free revenue models. Why are we returning to the freemium model now? Simply put, we’re hoping that by making the app free to download and use, we’ll get Twitterrific into the hands of thousands more people and those additional users will help support development via the increased ad revenue far into the future. The best part is that thanks to new App Store receipt handling in iOS 7, existing paid users are grandfathered into the new model and don’t have to restore any purchases. The app, with all it’s features, just works.

There are lots of risks with moving to this type of revenue model, but version 4 of Twitterrific was by far our most successful and that version was supported by ad revenue from The Deck. No doubt levels of support will increase dramatically for us but that’s part of the trade-off of having successful, thriving software. I’m also personally curious to see if moving to the free model and increasing the app’s downloads by at least 1 or 2 orders of magnitude will improve Twitterrific’s search results in the App Store. Having the very first 3rd party Twitter app in the App Store returned after non-twitter clients in a search has never seemed right to me. If you’ve never tried Twitterrific in the past, there’s no reason left not to give it a go now and we also hope you’ll help us spread the word!

The Rise of Mobile Games

The rise of mobile gaming is of interest to many people, both technology lovers and historians. In the last 20 years mobile gaming has really taken off, especially gaming on tablets. Whether it be Angry Birds or poker, the majority of us have played on a mobile device. This info-graphic from www.jackpotcity.co.uk details the rise in mobile gaming in geeky fashion. It’s impossible to say for certain what the future of mobile gaming holds, but from the looks of it, it’s going to be exciting. Click the image to see the entire info graphic.

The Bezel’s the Thing

It doesn’t take tea leaves or even a leaked report from the Wall St. Journal to figure out Apple will probably release a new model of iPhone with a larger screen later this year. Users have been begging for more screen real estate, especially with the increased attention of larger-screened devices like the Samsung Galaxy. Also, Apple typically does full product revisions on a 2-year cycle which just happens to hit for the iPhone this fall. All of these factors may create the “perfect iStorm” that users have been patiently waiting for. From a personal standpoint, I would love an iPhone with something around a 4.75″ screen because the older I get, the more I seem to squint and miss-tap at the tiny interface elements of my iPhone 5c.

The report from the Journal seems to hint at two new sizes of iPhones, one somewhere around 4.75″ and another, larger device possibly measuring 5.5″ diagonally. I freely admit that speculating about the screen sizes of these non-existant devices is mostly wishful thinking, but that’s part of the fun. What would your ultimate iPhone look like? What size screen would it sport and more importantly, what’s the new form factor going to be like? For all the talk about screen size, I think the more important aspect of the next iPhone will be the design of the bezel. The bezel is the border around the screen that offsets the display from the edge of the device. Recent rumors suggest that the new iPhone 6 will have little or no bezel between the screen and the left and right edge. If true, this is a far more exciting development, at least for me, than just upping the screen size.

It’s no secret that the industrial design team at Apple has long sought to create a display that’s essentially a continuous piece of solid glass, edge to edge when held in the hand. Such a design would result in a screen that seems to end where your hand begins. Now with advances in Sapphire glass technology and with 7 years of experience under Apple’s belt, the dream of a nearly invisible bezel may soon become a reality. Removing the bezel won’t be a slam dunk however, as there are most certainly software considerations that need to be worked out. Accidental taps and swipes at the edge of the screen would probably increase without some kind of UI “neutral zone” at the perimeter of the display. Designing protective cases that don’t interfere with touching or swiping would also be a challenge, but hardly impossible.

If the rumors are true and the iPhone 6 will have a bezel of around 1mm, it will certainly make for a stunning, refreshed visual appearance at a time when the iPhone seems stagnant. Apple’s supporters note the company is selling record numbers of iPhones even though the form factor hasn’t changed for several years and that is true. It is also true however that users have been hungry for larger devices as well as ones that look and feel different from the existing models to help set them apart from their peers. From the stunning introduction of the retina display to the increased security and cool factor of Touch ID, Apple fans love owning the new hotness. Come this fall, I’m willing to bet a big part of the “heat” won’t be what Apple has added, but rather what they’ve removed – the bezel.

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iObservations

This week I finally upgraded to a brand new iPhone 5c after almost 2 full years of use on my trusty iPhone 4s. I’ve now spent a couple days with the new device running iOS 7 and wanted to share some random observations (both good and bad) for what they’re worth. As with anything, your milage may vary.

The Good

AT&T LTE – I mean just look at it!

Siri’s new voice – It’s so much better than before. Feels very Star Trek.

New ring and alert tones – There’s been some fun made of these but overall I really like them. The majority have a light, fun feel that seems to fit perfectly with the new iOS 7. My ringtone is currently set to Sencha and my alert tone is Chord. Groovy!

OS 7′s folders – Worlds better than the one in use in iOS 5 & 6 the new folders are clean, easy to manage & hold more apps.

Background refreshing – We implemented it in Twitterrific and I can already tell it will be one of my favorite features of the new OS. Having content ready for you when you wake the device is killer. Jury’s still out on how it will affect battery life however.

The feel – The feel of the 5c in the hand is just as I imagined it would be. It has the smooth, comfy feel of the 3gs without the extra bezels. It feels rock solid in your hand, not like you’d expect from a plastic phone.

Use of color – Much has been made of the, let’s just say “bold” use of color in iOS 7, some good, but mostly bad. Personally I love it. I love the way your wallpaper setting for instance changes how interfaces like the dialer screen looks. Make an overall change here and the whole user experience feels fresh. Bravo Apple.

Command Center – Being able to turn off blue tooth at will as well as quick access to a flashlight (don’t laugh, it’s useful!) is just great. I can’t wait until I have a use for sharing a file via AirDrop.

Multi-image emails – The ease of use selecting multiple images from your camera roll to attach to a single email is simply fabulous.

The Not-So-Good

Missing share buttons – Apple removed the ability to tweet and post to Facebook right from Notification Center for some reason. I’m not sure why, but this was a great way to quickly get a tweet out without any fuss. You can still do it via Siri, but it’s too prone to errors. Hopefully these controls will be coming back.

Multiple chargers – I like the new smaller, 10 pin charger but my iPad 3 still uses the old 30-pin version. This means I have to keep two different kinds of cords around my home to charge my devices. This stinks. Speaking of charging…

RIP iHome Clock – It will no longer work with my new iPhone 5c’s 10-pin charger port. This makes me very very sad.

RIP Olloclip – Designed for my iPhone 4, my Olloclip is now a useless hunk of metal and glass sitting on my desk. Again, sad.

The feel – Yes, I love the feel of the new 5c, but even though it feels super awesome, it’s also super slippery in the hand. As my wife said, it feels like it’s “coated in butter”. I immediately went out and bought an ugly Apple case for it simply because I just knew I’d eventually drop it. I hate to cover the wonderful plastic up but i’m scared it will slip right out of my hand. I sat it on the arm of my couch and watched it sloooowly slide right off into my lap. It’s crazy smooth.

Ugly icons – I realize I’m being a kind of icon snob here, but I just can’t warm up to the horrible Settings and Safari icons. The fact that they are two of the most important destinations on my iPhone means I have to look at them all the time and I just cringe when I do. Really hope the designers at Apple re-visit these at some point.

Overall I’m extremely happy with with my iPhone upgrade. There’s no doubt that it was time to replace my 4s. The only real choice was if I wanted to move to a 5s or a 5c. I’m extremely happy with how the new phone feels in my hands. The plastic case is top notch and doesn’t have the kinds of beveled edges that made my 4s hard to pick up and hold. Will I miss the finger print scanner, better camera and 64-bit processor of the 5s? Probably, but I’m betting a year from now we’ll see a new model that will have all of these things plus a larger screen and maybe the awesome case of the 5c. If you currently own an iPhone 5, then the 5c may not be the way to go, but if you’re like me coming from the previous model, you just might consider taking the colorful path to plastic town.

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Why I’m Buying an iPhone 5c

I’ve owned an iPhone 4s for almost 2 years now and had been patiently awaiting the successor to the iPhone 5 until this week. When the 5 was first introduced, I was off-cycle for a discounted upgrade from AT&T and when I finally was eligible I thought I might as well just wait and see. I was hoping the increasing popularity of larger-screened smartphones would encourage Apple to release at least an iPhone with a 4.6″ screen in their next rev, but as I tweeted this past week, it seems Tim Cook’s pigs have yet to fly.

Now I have a choice to make. I can go with the fancy new iPhone 5s, complete with 64-bit hardware, a greatly improved camera and a cool fingerprint scanner, or I can “settle” for a 5 wrapped in a lickable, candy-coated plastic shell, the iPhone 5c. The gadget freak in me says to go with the snazzy 5s. After all, its increased speed would hold up better over the next 1.5-2 years and the pictures I took would no doubt be greatly improved from those I snap now. The 5s is more expensive, but that wasn’t the deciding factor, at least not for me.

I’ve chosen to go with the iPhone 5c for a couple reasons, but mainly because of comfort. For my money, the most comfortable smartphone to hold and use was the iPhone 3GS. Its slightly rounded back, smooth plastic construction and tight edges made it a joy to hold and use. When the iPhone 4 was introduced, I really didn’t like the device’s form factor. The metal band creates sharp edges that fatigue the fingers and collect dirt. In addition, to me the device is *too* thin to hold safely without a case. The new iPhone 5c’s smooth curves, and seamless sides call out to the scifi geek in me and the colors, oh the colors! It’s much more streamlined, minimal in appearance and seems easier to pick up off the table. I must admit however, if I could have the 5s’ guts inside the smooth, plastic shell of the 5c, I’d opt for that in a plastic heartbeat.

I know that no matter which model I pick, either will be a great upgrade from my 4s. Although it’s served me well these last two years, I’m more than ready for the increased screen size, faster processor power and increased battery life of a new iPhone. With any luck, around this time next year Apple will be introducing a 4.6″ iPhone that will sport an all new form-factor as well as all the neat-o gadgets that are sure to make the iPhone 5s a huge success. In the meantime, unlike Kermit, it’s easy being green.

PS – iOS 7 is awesome, you’re gonna love it!